Belfast Telegraph

Higgins's tribute to Spain's king

President Michael D Higgins has paid tribute to the abdicating King of Spain for being a unifying force.

Mr Higgins praised the monarch for bringing his country together in the 1970s following the end of the dictatorship led by General Francisco Franco.

"Spain and Ireland enjoy deep cultural and political affinities, historical and contemporary. I can personally attest to the very special empathy that exists between our nations and our peoples," the President said.

"I wish to pay tribute to King Juan Carlos who has been Head of State for almost four decades and who succeeded in uniting the Spanish people behind the democratic principles underlying the country's Constitution. I wish Crown Prince Felipe every success in his new role."

The King of Spain is the second European monarch to abdicate in just over a year. In April last year, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands handed the throne to her son Prince Willem-Alexander after 33 years. Her mother Queen Juliana of the Netherlands abdicated in 1980 on her 71st birthday.

Juan Carlos reigned for 40 years and helped smooth Spain's transition to democracy in the 1970s and also oversaw a more modern monarchy.

His popularity waned in recent years and he was heavily criticised after it emerged he went on an elephant-hunting trip to Botswana in 2012 while Spain struggled with an employment rate of one-in-four and the country appeared on the verge of an international bailout.

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